September 27, 2013

c2f8ccedc65be5c0-bbportLobster boats in Portland, Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

Creating a union, at all in today’s political climate is practically unheard of let alone in a time honored traditional fishing industry where lobstermen are known for their independent ways. Many own family run businesses that go back generations. But with encouragement, advise and determination the Maine Lobstermen’s Union was formed in 2013.

By any account the support lobster fishermen received across the state as they moved their grassroots effort forward to organize into a union— has been huge.

“It’s been overwhelming, it just blew my mind away. It was incredible to see what was available for support for lobster fishermen,” said Rock Alley, president of the new Maine Lobstermen’s Union as he made his speech on Labor Day, at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland.

With the abundance of lobster last year that drove prices down to $2 to $2.50 a pound, and increased pressure from federal and state regulations Alley realized that lobstermen needed to work together to form a union. And with issues like climate change, which could transform fishing, it became increasingly clear lobstermen needed a collective voice that would help protect their livelihoods.

“This is how we’re going to take back the industry that’s been taken from us,” said Alley.

Between 500 and 600 lobster fishermen have joined the union, and many more are interested. The first meeting included lobstermen from Machiasport, Jonesport, Stonington, Boothbay, Vinalhaven and other fishing towns.

“Unions are not just fighting for members, but for working people and businesses,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, during his remarks at the Southern Maine Labor Council breakfast as workers and officials celebrated the Union’s creation. “Now they will have a collective voice in Augusta.”

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources in 2012 the state had 4,288 active commercial lobster harvesters.
“It’s a real treat that we have a new union in Maine. The collective voice is a stronger voice,” said Doug Born, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council. “Its given voice to workers who literally had no voice. They now have the ability to speak out and be heard.”